294 HISTORY OF WESTERN EDUCATION
made fathers and mothers to educate, nor children to be educated."
He then went on to point out that among savages living in the state
of nature, education goes on of itself without direction from
anyone: the savage's only chance of survival is to learn from
experience how best to adapt himself to the conditions of his life.
To this Madame d'Epinay made the sensible reply that all this
was beside the point since they were no longer savages. For good
or for evil, children must be educated. How was it to be done ?
Rousseau could only answer that it would make the task easier to
begin by reconstructing society.
The main interest of this conversation is in the fact that it
reveals in brief compass the contradiction that runs through all
Rousseau's thought about education. He begins by saying that
education like all social contrivances is contrary to nature : then
immediately after, admits the possibility of a good education if
only society itself could be made good. Obviously if he had
stopped at the first position, there would have been nothing
more for him to say on the subject; but as a matter of fact,
without entirely abandoning his misgivings, he gradually reached
the view that society might be brought into conformity with nature,
and that under these conditions an ideal education would become
possible. In this connection it is worthy of note that ten years
after the Emile was published, Rousseau got the chance to explain
in some detail the part education might play in the reform of a
modern State. In the year 1772, just before the partition of Poland,
a Polish nobleman wrote to him, begging him to give advice to the
Poles with regard to the reform of their government. To this
Rousseau responded by writing a long tractate which he entitled
Considerations on the Government of Poland. After insisting that
it was only the Poles who could create the institutions required
for the preservation of their nation, he proceeded to emphasize
the necessity for a national education, " It is the national institu-
tions," he said, " which iorm the genius, the character, the tastes
and the morals of a people and render it different from every
other people.... Make it impossible for a Pole ever to become
a Russian, and I will guarantee that Russia will never subjugate
Poland."* And the only way this could be effected, he went on
to say, was to give the children of the nation the right kind of
education. So important is this matter of education that, following
* Boyd, Minor Educational Writings of Rous^e^ p« 139.